England will not meet its target of becoming a smokefree country by 2030, a report on smoking trends from Cancer Research UK has suggested.

The report states that the UK Government is almost a decade behind achieving its target, and if recent trends continue, England will only be smokefree by 2039. To reach the 2030 smokefree goal, smoking rates need to drop around 70% faster than current trends.

Missing the 2030 target could result in around one million cancer cases in the UK between now and 2040, as well as costing the NHS billions of pounds each year.

As a result of the findings,  Cancer Research UK is urging the Government to take more action to prevent young people from starting to smoke and to increase funding for services to help people quit.

There are currently around 5.4 million smokers in the UK, and between 75 000 and 100 000 smoking attributable deaths each year. Smoking-related health issues cost the NHS £2.4 billion yearly.

Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: ‘Smoking remains the largest preventable cause of cancer and death in the UK, but the Government has the power to change this.’

She added: ‘With bold action and strong leadership, we can ensure a future free of tobacco for reducing cancer and saving lives.’

Using data from the Office of National Statistics Anual Population Survey collected between 2011 and 2021, the report projects adult smoking estimates until 2050 based on the current observable trends.

The report found that although smoking rates have declined over the last few decades, this has yet to happen fast enough to meet the 2030 target, and the rate of decline is slowing down. Three years ago, the rate of decline in smoking needed to increase by 40% in order to meet the 2030 target, but now that has risen to 72%.

Smoking remains high in deprived communities, and there were nearly twice as many cancer cases caused by smoking in the country’s poorest areas compared to the wealthiest neighbourhoods, highlighting an uneven reduction in smoking across England.

Smoking rates were also higher than the national average amongst younger generations, especially people between 18 and 21 years of age.

Chief clinician of Cancer Research UK, Professor Charles Swanton, said: ‘Quitting smoking is one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions. But people are rarely successful on their own – they need support and the right tools to help them quit.

‘If the Government is serious about a smokefree England, action to create an environment that makes it easier for people to live healthy lives will be key. It must take on board the recommendations and publish a plan to stop people from ever starting to smoke and help people quit.’

This year, Cancer Research launched its Smokefree UK campaign, which urges the UK government to raise the tobacco sales age and increase funding for services to help people quit.

Community pharmacies in England began offering advanced smoking cessation services on the NHS in March 2022. 

Safedale Pharmacy in Haringey, London, has been offering a locally commissioned smoking cessation service for 15 years.

Pharmacist Jatin Damani said that the pharmacy works with patients to help them quit, with the funding allowing a patient to try the service for another 12 weeks if they are initially unsuccessful in quitting, 'which is better for NHS in the long run in term of costs'. 

'It’s really satisfying to be able to help people quit, but it is vital that you’ve got the support structure in place in the pharmacy with staff who are able to capture and recognise customers as well,' he added.

A version of this article first appeared on our sister publication, Nursing in Practice.